Psychologists call it "gaze detection" — that's the ability we humans have to sense when we are being stared at.
Now Jaguar Land Rover engineers are taking the concept to a whole different level with the bug-eyed self-driving pods they are testing on a faux England street. The pods are outfitted with saucer-sized eyes that detect pedestrians and signal to them when it is safe to cross the street at stoplights and intersections.
While the expressive eyes on the front of the pods might look like something from "The Twilight Zone," there is sound logic behind the technology. Says JLR: "The pods seek out the pedestrian — appearing to 'look' directly at them — signaling to road users that it has identified them, and intends to take avoiding action."
According to Psychology Today: "Where you look conveys how you feel and what your intentions are, what you like and what you don't like, and directs attention to meaningful things in the environment. Further, making direct eye contact is the most frequent and perhaps the most powerful nonverbal signal we exchange with others; it's central to intimacy, intimidation and social influence."
Engineers elsewhere have tested roof-mounted emojis to help pedestrians feel safe around self-driving cars. But JLR's eyes just may have it.
"It's second nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road. Understanding how this translates in tomorrow's more automated world is important," said Pete Bennett, future mobility research manager at JLR.